Why 40 years of US sanctions failed to keep Iran away from Russia
- Iran has insulated its economy so well that US sanctions can do little to prevent it from supplying Russia with drones and missiles
- Had the US tried to engage Iran instead, dependence on Western trade may have discouraged it from pursuing such deals
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s outreach to Iran is a strategic one. Unlike other countries, Iran can continue to supply weapons and provide technical assistance unhindered by the threat of sanctions to its weapons manufacturing facilities and the overall economy.
Iran has successfully managed to navigate US isolationist strategies for the past 40 years, and renewed international scrutiny will not deter it from lending further support to Russia.
The US State Department recently announced customary sanctions on three Iranian companies of particular interest. One, Paravar Pars Company, was accused of reverse engineering US and Israeli drones. The latest round of sanctions is a nascent attempt to isolate Iran’s domestic defence industries and prevent it from further aiding Russia in its war with Ukraine.
Iran’s drone programme has existed since the 1980s but took major leaps after 2011, when it hacked a Lockheed Martin Sentinel UAV which flew over Kashmar in northeastern Iran.
Lately, Ukrainian investigators analysing captured Iranian drones have found parts that aid in navigation, propulsion, and manoeuvring that have been traced back to transatlantic countries.
The utilitarian nature of Iranian drones is a stopgap measure by Russia, as its prototypes, much like most of its military modernisation programmes, are being tested and will be “ready” by the end of the year.
To put this into perspective, on October 10, Russia fired 84 cruise missiles into Ukraine, which amounted to an estimated bill of US$400-700 million, with costs ranging from US$13 million for an X-101 rocket, US$6.5 million for the Kaliber and US$3 million for the Iskander missile.
If the cost of the Kamikaze drones is anything to go by, then the Iranian short-range ballistic missiles Fateh-110 and the Zolfaghar will be a fraction of those prices.
The current measures to counter this new strategic shift in Russia’s military operations require more than the lip service of sanctioning Iran’s industries or members of its powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Iran is aware of how insulated it is from US sanctions. Excessive attempts to discipline it into submission have led to it aligning its vision with Russia to establish a multipolar world.
The leverage created could have allowed the US-led defence on Ukraine to stop Iran from being involved, as the threat of withdrawal of companies from Iran would have prompted a backlash within the country.
Sameed Basha is a defence and political analyst with a master’s degree in international relations from Deakin University, Australia